Teachers tell school board member they want an educator to lead Hamilton County Schools

School board member Greg Martin reacts to a question concerning a new superintendent of schools Tuesday evening during a discussion at Hixson High School.
photo School board member Greg Martin reacts to a question concerning a new superintendent of schools Tuesday evening during a discussion at Hixson High School.

Teachers were adamant Tuesday night the next leader of the Hamilton County Schools system needs to be an educator and a champion for teachers.

"If you've not been an educator you don't know all the ins and outs," said Julie Fine, principal at Hixson Elementary School.

A couple of dozen parents and educators met at Hixson High School on Tuesday night to talk with school board member Greg Martin, who represents the district, about what they want to see in the next superintendent.

For about 15 minutes, Martin shared his thoughts about the school system's future. He said former Superintendent Rick Smith's strength was not communication, and he thinks Smith made the right decision last week to leave his spot at the helm.

"Now is time for a fresh start," Martin said.

He told the small group gathered about the vote at last week's school board meeting to lower the requirements for the interim superintendent post to just needing a bachelor's degree - the state's minimum requirement. In the meeting, Martin was a vocal supporter of lowering the requirement so a non-educator could fill the position.

photo School board member Greg Martin reacts to a question concerning a new superintendent of schools Tuesday evening during a discussion at Hixson High School.

He said Tuesday night that someone like former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen could make a great superintendent because of his leadership experience, despite not having a background in education.

Fine agreed a superintendent should be a good leader and manager, but told Martin education has to be the superintendent's main priority.

Other teachers and administrators in the room agreed, and Melissa Lloyd, a former educator and the president of Big Ridge Elementary's Parent Teacher Association, said she hopes the next leader will be more supportive of teachers and better at communication.

"One of the biggest things we need to look for is someone who is going to work well with our staff," Lloyd said. "We really need to take care of our teachers and listen to them."

Fran White, a teacher at Hixson Elementary, said the accountability system in place for teachers, schools and central office administrators needs to be adjusted. She said teachers and principals can't be the only people held responsible for low test scores.

White noted that Smith received a raise and high evaluations from the school board after the district's test scores fell for two consecutive years, adding that as a teacher, she would not receive a raise if that was happening in her classroom.

Martin listened and asked questions as educators and parents talked, saying it's important for him to hear their thoughts. Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger and County Commissioner Marty Haynes also attended the meeting to listen.

photo School board member Greg Martin reacts to a question concerning a new superintendent of schools Tuesday evening during a discussion at Hixson High School.

Christy Carroll Highfill, a mother of students in Hamilton County's schools, said she would like to see the next superintendent be someone from outside the school system who has experience in leading a successful school system.

"I would love to see someone come from a district that is outperforming ours," she said. "I'd like for us to look outside the box for our next superintendent."

Cheri Schannuth, also a mom of students in public schools, said she moved from Colorado and would like the next leader to be someone who can rally community support and confidence around public education, something she thinks is lacking across the county.

"People need to realize that public schools are great," Schannuth said. "You should be able to go to public school and get a great education."

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at kendi.anderson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow on twitter @kendi_and.